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Controlling Your Anger

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

We all know what anger is, and we've all felt it: whether as a fleeting annoyance or as full-fledged rage. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at school, with your friends and family, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you're at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.

Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by changes in your physical body; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, your breathing changes, and you get a surge of energy hormones like adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (such as a friend or family member) or event (a traffic jam, extra homework), or your anger could be caused by worrying about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic events, or things that made you angry in the past can also trigger angry feelings.


When we feel angry, our natural response is to express this with aggression. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it causes powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviours, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.

Sometimes we try to squash down our anger and not express it. But unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to acting in a passive-aggressive way, which means we get back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on. Or our personality changes to become pessimistic and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making disparaging comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.


People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming.

Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive manner is the healthiest and most effective way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being aggressive, pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others. You will need to identify your needs first, and them explain them calmly and clearly to others.

Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. You can do this by holding in your anger, take your attention away from the thing which is causing you upset, and focus on something positive instead. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behaviour. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause health problems or depression.

Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behaviour, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, slow your breathing, and let the feelings subside.

Here are some good techniques to use to control and reduce your angry feelings:


Simple relaxation such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. Some simple steps you can try:

· Breathe deeply, from your tummy; breath out for longer than you breath in. It can help to count 3 to breathe in, and count 5 as you breathe out.

· Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax," "stay calm." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.

· Use imagery; visualise a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.

· Do some gentle, yoga-like stretches to relax your muscles and help you feel calmer.

Cognitive Restructuring

Or in other words, change the way you think. When we get angry, our thinking can become exaggerated, colourful and highly dramatic, and we tend to express ourselves in absolutes. Try replacing these thoughts with more temperate ones. For example, instead of saying to yourself, "This is horrendous, it's dreadful, everything's ruined," say instead, "it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world". Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to solve anything, and it won't make you feel better. In fact, it may actually make you feel worse.

Be careful of absolute words like "never" or "always" when talking about yourself or someone else, for example "this machine never works," or "you always get things wrong". Not only are statements like this inaccurate; they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified. This sort of thinking prevents you from seeing there is a way to solve the problem. Saying it about someone else can also upset and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to help you find a solution.

Also try to avoid saying “It’s not fair!” or “Why does this always happen to me?” as this will only make you feel more angry and frustrated. Instead, you can describe how you are feeling, for example, “I am upset that this has happened” or “I feel I have been treated unfairly”.

Use logic

Even when it's justified, anger can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is "not out to get you," you're just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it'll help you get a more balanced perspective.

Problem Solving

Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and difficult problems in our lives. Society can make us believe that every problem has a solution, and when we realise that this is not the case, it can add to our frustration. In these situations, rather than focus on finding the solution, it can be helpful to concentrate your thoughts on how you handle and face the problem.

Make a plan, and check your progress along the way. Resolve to give it your best, but don’t punish yourself if an answer doesn't come right away. If you can approach a problem with your best intentions and efforts and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, you will be less likely to lose patience and fall into all-or-nothing thinking, even if the problem does not get solved right away.

Change Demands to Desires

Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don't get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren't met, their disappointment becomes anger.

In order to overcome our anger, we need to become aware of our unconscious demands, and modify these expectations into desires. In other words, saying, "I would like" something is healthier than saying, "I demand" or "I must have" something. Being able to say to yourself, “I would prefer it if..” or “it would be better if…” can help you stay calm. When you're unable to get what you want, you will still experience the normal reactions—frustration, disappointment, hurt—but not anger. Although it can be very hard, it is important to accept that sometimes we do not get what we want, and people do not always behave in the way we would like them to.

Better Communication

When we become angry, we tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be completely wrong! In a heated discussion, don't just say the first thing that comes into your head. Slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.

Listen, too, to what is underlying the other person's anger. For instance, you like a certain amount of freedom and personal space, and your partner wants you to spend more time with them. If he or she starts complaining about your activities, don't retaliate by painting them as a jailer, or a warden.

It's natural to get defensive when you're criticised. Instead of fighting back, though, try to listen to what's underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected or need something from you. You may need to be patient and willing to talk it through, and you may both need some breathing space, but don't let anger cause a discussion to spiral out of control. Staying calm can prevent the situation from becoming calamitous.

Using Humour

"Silly humour" can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry and call someone a name or refer to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that word would literally look like. If you're at work and you think of a colleague as an "airhead" or a "rat" for example, picture them with a balloon for a head (or a sharp-toothed rodent) sitting at their desk, talking on the phone, or talking in a meeting. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humour can always be relied on to help defuse a tense situation.

The underlying message of many angry people is "things should go my way!" Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!

When you feel that urge, maybe try picturing yourself as a god or goddess, a supreme ruler, who owns the streets and shops and offices, striding alone and having your way in all situations while others kowtow to you. The more detail you can get into your imaginary scenes, the more chances you have to realise that maybe you are being unreasonable. You may also recognise how unimportant the things you're angry about really are.

However, don't try to just "laugh off" your problems; rather, use humour to help yourself face them more constructively. And try to avoid harsh, sarcastic humour, as this is a form of unhealthy anger expression. Anger is a serious emotion, but it's often accompanied by ideas that, from a different perspective, can make you laugh.

Become self-aware

Notice times or situations when you are more prone to become angry, and give yourself a break. Make sure you have some "personal time" scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. Maybe you need time to 'decompress' when you get back from work or school. Or perhaps our family should be warned not to talk to you until you've had your fist cup of coffee in the morning.

Think about timing: If you tend to have more arguments at night, this might be because you're tired, or distracted, or maybe it's just habit. Try changing the times when you talk about important matters so these talks don't turn into arguments.

Notice your physical state. If we are tired, or hungry, or feeling under the weather, we are more susceptible to our emotions. Ensure you eat regularly and when you are hungry. Nap or rest if you are tired. Treat yourself kindly.

Cartoon of an angry man


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